On “Poetry and the Gods” by H.P. Lovecraft

Canon Fodder is an occasional series in which I write about classic works of horror fiction. This particular part of the series is devoted to the complete published works of H.P. Lovecraft, which I will slowly be working my way through.

Someone tell Howard to log-off… he’s posting cringe on the APAs.

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INSPO: The A-Team

INSPO is a series of posts about non-horror topics that could nonetheless be used as inspiration for a horror game. The rest of the series can be found here.

I am not clear on where we currently stand in the cycle of fashionable attitudes regarding the A-Team. Are we on ironic appreciation, nostalgic re-appropriation, or overly-sincere adoration? To be perfectly honest, I am not clear on where my own attitudes towards the original series lie. As with many of these kinds of series, I suspect I like them more in theory than I do in practice but the theory is so sound that it makes a great subject for a series of articles about using non-horrific media as inspiration for a horror RPG.

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Into The OSR: Gygax ’75 (Week 2) – Rosemere

Into the OSR is an occasional series in which I write up some of the creative decisions I have made in the preparation of my old school sandbox D&D style fantasy RPG campaign. The rest of the series can be found here

Last week I wrote a bit about how I was using the Gygax ’75 framework to provide some structure for the work I am doing on a new OSR campaign that I am going to be running next spring.

Week 2 of Gygax ’75 is all about drawing a map that is of a particular size and which has a certain number of features. While I could have drawn the map in a notebook, I decided to use this week as an opportunity to acquire some new skills and so I downloaded and taught myself to use Cone of Negative Energy’s neat little map-drawing app Hex kit.

While I may yet wind up writing a proper review of Hex Kit, I was really surprised by how easy it was to use as I have tried downloading mapping software before and found those apps way too complicated for a brain addled by too much speed and Japanese pornography.

In truth, my only complaint so far is that I really regret using the Fantasyland tile set as the intense vibrancy of the colour palette has produced something that looks less like a map and more like a clown’s jizz-rag. I used to think that the limited colour scheme of maps in old school war-gaming was a failure to be evocative but I now realise that this simplicity was just a product of wanting something that was easy to parse without being overly busy and I think my map of the island of Rosemere demonstrates the wisdom of those design principles.

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WTD: Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi

Watching the Detectives is a series of posts about drawing inspiration from fictitious paranormal investigators, occult detectives, police psychics, and monster hunters. The rest of the series can be found here.

The website TV Tropes often talks about tropes originating in particular properties and then being codified by others. What they mean by this is that while some ideas have been around literally forever, their cultural presence can often be traced back to one particular use of said idea that proved so hugely popular and influential that everyone wound up using the idea in the exact same way.

I am still not sure how I feel about the assumptions and social-mechanics informing the TV Tropes website, but I do enjoy the way that these kinds of discussions often wind up feeling like people discussing the lineages of race horses, pedigree dogs, or Royal houses. Even serious literary scholars codify and legitimise cultural scenes by trying to come up with lists of literary ancestors, influences who did the same thing in another place and another time. But if we can talk about ancestors, can we not also talk about orphans?

For example, we can talk about occult detectives and how the sub-genre was ‘sired’ by Sheridan Le Fanu and then ‘codified’ by Bram Stoker but can we not also talk about the extinction of that particular cultural line? Consider for example the way that the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer film turned up at a time when the Occult Detective series was almost completely dead on its arse. In fact, the sub-genre had so little salience at the time that both the film and the TV series spent a lot of time dunking on traditional Occult Detectives in the form of the Watchers. One could even say that the central meta-textual theme of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a popular feminist take on the idea that stories about Occult Detectives are lame compared to stories about teenaged super-heroes and it’s time for the dusty-old detective dudes to step aside. Thus the Occult Detective sub-genre was broken down for parts and separated from its roots in Horror and Crime Fiction so that its ideas could be cannibalised and resold under the guise of Urban Fantasy. In other words, Buffy was a series that made orphans… it was so popular and so influential that it made the Occult Detective genre disappear and made it impossible to tell those kinds of stories without magic swords, lightening-bolts, and bantering heroes in trench-coats or leather trousers.

Kôji Shiraishi is a director with the power to make orphans. Best known in the West for his films Noroi and Occult he tells Occult Detective stories with such a clear and timely vision that it is difficult to imagine telling similar stories without at least acknowledging that sensibility. In fact, at this point, the only thing preventing him from launching a new golden age of Occult Detective stories is the fact that his films and TV series are almost impossible to find in English. I was lucky enough to stumble upon full subtitled run of Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi uploaded to YouTube but they now appear to have disappeared again.

Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi is everything you want from both Japanese horror and an Occult Detective series: It is weird, it is visually striking, it is mind-bending, and (like many of Shiraishi’s other films) it ends with a spiral down into conspiracy theories, cosmic horror, and really quite unpleasant depictions of mental illness. This is the Occult Detective genre stripped back to its basics and made new again.

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ZC: TNHC Zine, Issues I and II

Zine Corner is an occasional series in which I talk about individual issues of zines I have come across on my travels. Some of these will be about RPGs, some of them will be about horror, some of them will be about folklore, and some of them will just be weird and cool. The rest of the series can be found here.

It is fascinating to me (as someone who has long had an interest in the worlds of science-fiction, horror, RPGs, punk rock, and photography) to see how the world ‘zine’ is used in different sub-cultures.

For example, the annual Hugo awards have long had a category honouring the year’s best fanzine and this category has long been a site of conflict: Nowadays, fans get unhappy when professionals use their clout to get nominated in fan-related categories. Before that people who published amateur digital magazines with distinct issues got unhappy when people started getting nominated for their blogs. I suspect before that there was an issue regarding whether or not your amateur magazine had be available in the form of a physical copy.

In the worlds of roleplaying games and photography, people have been quick to reach for the term ‘zine’ to describe self-published work because ‘zine’ has counter-cultural credibility but the steep prices of these zines combined with their larger print runs, expensive papers, and upscale production values suggest that when people in RPGs and photography talk about publishing a zine, they are actually talking about putting out a chapbook. The TNHC zine is named for The Nottingham Horror Collective and while it is printed on nice paper and has really quite incredibly high production values, the brevity, casualness, and personal nature of the articles all speak to a zine-making tradition that is a lot closer to what the worlds of punk and SFF used to call a fanzine.

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Into The OSR: Gygax ’75 (Week 1)

Into the OSR is an occasional series in which I write up some of the creative decisions I have made in the preparation of my old school sandbox D&D style fantasy RPG campaign. The rest of the series can be found here

One of the things that has surprised and delighted me upon returning to the hobby has been the sheer amount of RPG-related stuff that people have been uploading to YouTube.

Don’t get me wrong… wanting access to RPG-related stuff was one of the primary engines behind my first forays online in the late 1990s. There have always been RPG-related blogs and websites but one of the more interesting things to emerge from the rise of RPG-adjacent YouTube has been the willingness to internalise YouTube’s fondness for how-to videos. As a result, you don’t just get reviews and opinion-pieces delivered to camera, you also get introductory videos addressing such perennial questions as ‘how to write and adventure’ or ‘how to start designing your own campaign setting’.

I got the idea for this series of posts from the YouTube channel Questing Beast who made a video about writing your first campaign and referred to a document known to the OSR community as Gygax ’75.

Gygax ’75 is based upon an article written by Gary Gygax less than a year after the original publication of D&D. Back then, the hobby was growing so quickly that the need for instructional content was outstripping both the material made available by TSR and the hobby’s ability to ‘teach-by-doing’. As a result, Gygax wrote an article listing a few ways in which you might get the ball rolling and start designing your own campaign world. This article was re-discovered under the auspices of the OSR and passed back and forth a few times before being updated and codified into a document by Ray Otus (downloadable here).

While this is not my first romp around the paddock when it comes to designing campaign settings and writing my own adventures, I have decided to take my cues from the Gygax ’75 workbook as a way of giving myself both a bit of structure and an excuse to acquire some new skills that I would probably try to skirt around if left to my own devices. While I won’t necessarily be in a position to post one of these every single week, I am going to try to abide by the work-rate suggested in the document.

Week one is all about basic ideas and sources of inspiration.

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On “The Street” by H.P. Lovecraft

Canon Fodder is an occasional series in which I write about classic works of horror fiction. This particular part of the series is devoted to the complete published works of H.P. Lovecraft, which I will slowly be working my way through.

If you live… on racism street… here are the simple-minded reactionary caricatures that you might meet…

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WTD: Once & Future

Watching the Detectives is a series of posts about drawing inspiration from fictitious paranormal investigators, occult detectives, police psychics, and monster hunters. The rest of the series can be found here.

I must admit to having something of a strained relationship with the work of Kieron Gillen.

The source of the tension is that while I adore Phonogram as well as The Wicked + The Divine, I would struggle to either name their characters, or describe their plots. This tension is a product of how Gillen approaches the writing of these kinds of series.

The creative methodology behind Phonogram and The Wicked + The Divine is to take a sociological phenomenon which, though strange, is mundane to the point of absolute ubiquity. Gillen then steps back from this phenomenon and asks us to consider what it would look like if said phenomenon was rooted in magic rather than human psychology. For example, Phonogram looks at people’s relationships with popular music and the way that pop music scenes can be so powerful as to give you a sense of rootedness and identity but also fragile enough to dry up and blow away with the passage of time.  The Wicked + The Divine deals with a similar set of themes in that its focus is on celebrity, fandom, and the way that human culture lavishes attention on certain people at certain times only to cast them aside the second they have ceased to be of use.

Both Phonogram and The Wicked + The Divine are hugely clever and well-realised pieces of comics writing but they both struggle with character and narrative. Indeed, were it not for the brilliant artwork and visual story-telling of Jamie McKelvie, you would be well justified in claiming that both works read more like elevator pitches than actual comics.

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On “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and his Family” by H.P. Lovecraft

Canon Fodder is an occasional series in which I write about classic works of horror fiction. This particular part of the series is devoted to the complete published works of H.P. Lovecraft, which I will slowly be working my way through.

When Ancestry.com several impacts your mental health.

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ZC: Bayt al Azif – Issue 1

Zine Corner is an occasional series in which I talk about individual issues of zines I have come across on my travels. Some of these will be about RPGs, some of them will be about horror, some of them will be about folklore, and some of them will just be weird and cool.The rest of the series can be found here.

I grew up in the interregnum between two eras of fanzine creation: On the one hand, I am a bit too young to remember when mimeographed amateur zines were the only way that fans had to communicate aside from face-to-face meetings. On the other hand, I had drifted away from the hobby when online payment infrastructures and improved access to on-demand and off-set printing began to make zines a popular means of getting your stuff out there while also by-passing professional publishing.

Having returned to the hobby to find a flourishing (some might even say over-heating) market for zines, I am now playing catch-up and this series will give me an excuse to actually do some thinking about both the format and the kind of stuff that is being put out there.

My memories of RPG zines are dominated by two very different sets of titles. The first was a Nephilim fanzine I got based on an advert in the back of a magazine and that included a load of weird stuff about the author’s local cathedral and an absolute head-fuck of a campaign in which the PCs wound up inhabiting the bodies of the players. Despite not being able to remember the name of said fanzine, I remember being blown away by the complexity of the ideas and the fact that the whole thing felt intimately personal to one person’s vision of the game. My second set of memories is of The Unspeakable Oath. While that particular Call of Cthulhu fanzine was resurrected in the early 2010s, I can remember buying a few copies of the original Pagan Publishing run in which John Tynes laid out a vision that I now realise has since become not only the default understanding of Call of Cthulhu but of all Lovecraft-inspired games of investigative horror.

Billed as “a magazine for Cthulhu Mythos roleplaying games”, Jared Smith’s Bayt al Azif first appeared in 2018 and has since seen four separate issues.  I got my copies in the form of a PDF from DriveThruRPG but you can also use DTRPG’s print-on demand service to get it in the form of a hard-copy.

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